Monday, 27 January 2014

Golfing in Seychelles

Paradise found: Golfing at Constance Lemuria Resort, Praslin

Matt Cooper travels to the Seychelles and is blown away by a totally unique golfing experience

Throughout my first round at Constance Lemuria in the Seychelles I was fighting more than a duck hook - I was also scratching an itch, a mental itch.

It pestered me as I wound my way between huge ancient boulders, bright flowers and lush rainforest. It played in the back of my head as I hit balls across mangrove swamps and lakes. It was a playful itch and it nagged away because of, rather than in spite of, the backdrop of blue sky, sandy beaches and crystal clear sea.

Finally, I got it.

"I know what this place reminds me of," I smiled to myself, a satisfying wave of relief sweeping over me. "Birmingham."


Okay, so I'm not mad. I was thinking specifically of Star City, a shopping mall in Birmingham which has two jungle-themed courses at Adventure Island Mini Golf.

And that is what Constance Lemuria is like - it's like crazy golf for grown ups.

If that sounds a little bewildering it's not remotely out of kilter with my entire visit to the Seychelles, which was one remarkable, unanticipated experience after another.

Within minutes of my arrival on the islands I had decided that I felt a bit like a 16th century explorer, one of those daring characters who set sail from Europe, didn't see dry land for six months and then finally bumped into a paradise island.

Bumped might not be the technical term (I suspect seafaring skills had something to do with it), but their endeavour had a sense of stepping, or at least sailing, towards the unexpected.

And that's what had happened to me.

These days discovering something unexpected when you travel isn't easy because we're inundated with information and images, so you're more or less prepared for everything.

But the Seychelles was different.

I knew it would be nice, but I didn't expect it to be so colourful, so vivid, so dramatic. I wasn't prepared for the beaches to be so white, the sea so blue, the trees so green, the flowers so bright, the fruit so sweet and the mountains so steep.

Most of all I was completely unprepared to find such a dramatic golf course smack bang in the middle of it all.

That's not entirely true, of course. Golf was the reason I went in the first place. But the reality of what I found there was very definitely a shock. My mind was ready for something resembling a Spanish resort layout so my eyes got a shock to discover a crazy golf course that was 6,113 yards long.


The remarkable view from the 18th tee
The full effect hit me when I walked onto the 15th tee.

Once again, I was prepared in theory: I knew this was the signature hole because I'd been on the website, I'd looked at photographs and I'd been told this was the key experience at Lemuria.

But when I stood on the tee and took in the view ... I laughed.

I literally burst out laughing because the dramatic reality of the situation was beyond anything I had expected.

I knew it was a par-three. I knew there was an elevated tee box. I knew there was a 90-yard drop to the putting surface. I knew the green was surrounded by rainforest and that 70-yards left of it was a beautiful beach.

And yet I still laughed because everything was magnified: the drop was steeper and longer, the rainforest was lusher and more colourful, the sand was whiter and the sea was bluer.

Astonished (and slightly hysterical) laughter seemed to be the only option.


But the Lemuria course has more to offer than just one hole and if I had to describe it, I would reference the Hawaiian swing on the PGA Tour because the first 12 holes closely resemble Waialae, venue for the Sony Open, then the final six holes make you think of Plantation, home to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Those early holes are flat and call for tight control of the ball. It's a beautiful stretch of golf, with your attention always alert to water hazards, tree-lined fairways and the risk of losing concentration with so much wildlife and plant-life to gawp at.

Before you know it (that's one of the great things about this course - the pace of play is not just swift, it's electric; you just zoom round at your own speed) you're on the 13th and 14th holes, two of the steepest uphill par-fours I've ever played. As with Plantation in Hawaii, yardages are suddenly less important than imagination.

And then to the 15th tee. Just remembering it brings a smile to my face. 165 yards from the back tee, my ball soared into the air and then dropped.

And dropped.

And dropped.

And when I joined it at the green, having completed my par, there was a bonus.

At Nefyn GC in North Wales you can leave the 12th green, walk down to the beach, have a drink (or two) at the pub and return to the 13th tee without losing the honour.

Lemuria has no pub, but it does have the stunning Anse Georgette - a beach which, unlike cold North Welsh beaches, invites you to pull off your shirt and jump in the water. But as with Nefyn, local rules say you can swim and retain the honour.

You need to recover concentration quickly however, because the 16th hole might be the tightest I have ever played. Miss the fairway, lose a ball. But who cares? It's beautiful.

The 17th is a deceptive par-three before the final hole calls for a drive from the top of a hill to a fairway protected by jungle on the left and lake-swamp on the right. As if that weren't distraction enough, the far horizon is dotted with sand-fringed islands.

Need refreshment for the test? Poke a mango from a tree with a 7-iron, peel it and taste the sweetest mango you ever ate. Or try the local prunes (kind of like marshmallows with a mini coconut inside). They don't need halfway huts on this course - nature provides the refreshment.


The 13th green with the tee in the distance -
not much room for error with the tee shot!
Golf at Lemuria is a unique combination of dramatic golf and stunning views. It is also unusual in yet another, unexpected, way: because it's millionaire's golf so you've more or less got the course to yourself.

That factor makes it popular with couples and all ranges of players. Those afraid of an audience needn't be because they can play their own game. Better players who want a quick round will find it easy to do so (I completed both rounds in under three hours).

It means you get plenty of golf, but lots of time to enjoy the rest of the resort too; the golf is a wonderful part of the experience rather than the only experience. A round won't take a big chunk out of the day.

International flights arrive on the main island of Mahe and it is common to spend the first night (or maybe more) at another Constance resort - Ephelia - prior to catching either the 15 minute flight or one hour ferry to Praslin. That in itself only adds to the experience because Ephelia is another stunning hotel, with two magnificent beaches overlooked by rainforest which you can fly across on a zip line.

This might not be how 16th century visitors explored paradise islands, but it proved just as surprising for me. Crazy maybe, but in a very good way.

[ This article, by Matt Cooper, originally appeared on Cooper was a guest of Constance Lemuria and travelled with Air Seychelles. ]   |

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